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Cardboard Beds and Parents' Products to the Fore at US Kids' Show

As well as the latest offerings from all the expected names in the global child and baby products' business, the ABC Kids Expo also featured a host of items that began life as problem-solving innovations on the part of harassed parents.

Photo: The ABC Kids Expo: Bright, colourful and packed with “aha!” moments for novice parents.
The ABC Kids Expo: Bright, colourful and packed with "aha!" moments for novice parents.
Photo: The ABC Kids Expo: Bright, colourful and packed with “aha!” moments for novice parents.
The ABC Kids Expo: Bright, colourful and packed with "aha!" moments for novice parents.

Virtually every major manufacturer and distributor in the children and baby products sector was said to be in attendance at the recent ABC Kids Expo. Organised by the All Baby & Child Corporation, a Texas-based trade association, the event also attracted a number of start-up businesses, many of them founded by new parents.

With a number of dedicated product zones – ranging from Maternity Square to The Runway Show – the expo featured a vast array of child-friendly items, including furniture, strollers, smudge-free chalk and milk timers. There was even a sandwich cutter said to be capable of turning peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into edible Minions.

In terms of the overall US market, the baby-care sector is expected to be worth US$66.8 billion in 2017. According to IbisWorld, a Los Angeles-headquartered market-research group, baby food and nutrition will account for the largest proportion of that revenue, followed by furniture and accessories (including diapers, bottles and strollers).

Significantly, much of the growth in the sector has been driven by smaller companies, with parents shunning the output of the larger corporations in favour of more natural products. As a sign of this, during January to June 2016, the baby-care sales of Johnson & Johnson – the sector's New Jersey-based market leader – fell below $200 million in value terms for the first time since 2007.

These changing preferences have inevitably resulted in a huge number of new entries to the sector. Acknowledging this, John Garcia, Head of Media Relations for the expo, said: "This year, we had to drastically expand our new product showcase in order to accommodate a record number of new submissions."

The show is also becoming more international, this year setting a record with representatives attending from 75 countries and the addition of two new pavilions – Turkey and South Korea. In terms of future expansion, Garcia expects to see a fresh influx of buyers from China, a development driven by the country's recent adoption of its two-child policy.

Staying with the more recent event, though, and buyers could find fresh ideas over at the 2nd Annual Celebrity Nursery Exhibit. This year, the exhibit was masterminded by Vanessa Antonelli – the celebrated New Jersey-based nursery and baby equipment designer – who took her own inspiration from such diverse sources as singer Janet Jackson and actress Blake Lively. With some now maintaining that an overgrown toddler has now been installed on Capitol Hill, the inclusion of a White House-inspired playroom – complete with a fur-decked stroller and red pillow stars – was perhaps a little prescient.

For the less-ostentatiously oriented parents, there was the Smitten, a US take on a Finnish-style bassinet box. With suffocation seen as a major contributor to infant mortality levels, pediatricians increasingly recommend that newborns' sleeping areas should be free of soft padding, pillows and blankets, an approach that the Smitten looks to embrace.

Essentially a cardboard box, similar products to the Smitten have long been popular in Finland and several other European nations, sometimes provided as part of a state support programme for new parents. In the US, though, it remains a largely unfamiliar concept.

Kate Barr is the Co-founder of Pip & Grow, the Oregon-based company behind the Smitten. Explaining the thinking that went into the product, she said: "While there are certainly a lot of 'more-is-more' folks, we're finding that many parents are simply seeking safe, nice-looking, responsible solutions."

Photo: The Smitten safer sleeping system.
The Smitten safer sleeping system.
Photo: The Smitten safer sleeping system.
The Smitten safer sleeping system.
Photo: A simple sinkful: The BabyDam.
A simple sinkful: The BabyDam.
Photo: A simple sinkful: The BabyDam.
A simple sinkful: The BabyDam.

The Smitten is designed for babies up to six-months-old and includes a recyclable corrugated cardboard box, a mattress and a fitted sheet. It can be placed next to the parents' bed and moved around the house as required.

Purchasers also have the option of participating in a buy-one, give-one programme, allowing boxes to be provided to families in need. Unlike many of its European counterparts, the Smitten doesn't come with any additional baby-care accessories, although there are plans in place to remedy that.

As regular attendees know all too well, the ABC Kids Expo always features an array of "aha!" parenting products, items that, as a parent, you wonder quite how you managed without them. This year, the prime example was BabyDam, an innovative new item from a UK company of the same name.

Ingeniously simple, the BabyDam allows you to shut off part of a bathtub, making it easier and cheaper to bathe a baby. Launching in the US in early 2017, the product was said to be attracting considerable interest from retailers. Reflecting the reaction of many, BabyDam Director John Piner said: "It's such a simple and effective product that you'd think there'd be something similar on the market already. But there isn't."

Another European innovation came courtesy of Sweden's Twistshake, which was looking to make feeding easier with its range of bottles and sippy cups. The bottles all come with a mixer function that helps to dissolve formula and prevent clumps, while the mixer in the sippy cups is designed to mash fruits, allowing water to be flavoured naturally.

Highlighting the benefits of the range, Director Ingemar Arvedahl said: "With the Twistshake, parents can add real juice and flavouring instead of sugar, while families on-the-go can also benefit from the stackable snack container that is also part of the line."

Even though the ABC Kids Expo marked the official US launch of the range, Twistshake had already secured a number of distribution deals with major US companies. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the company was somewhat bullish about its prospects for the coming year.

Equally upbeat was Victoria Seagrim, Co-founder of UK-based Milk Monster. Explaining just what spurred her to develop the company's milk timing system, she said: "As a mother of three, there have been many times when I've got up in the middle of the night to give a bottle and I can't remember how long ago it was prepared. Or, maybe my husband has gone and he doesn't know. Our monitoring system takes that uncertainty away."

The company held its official US launch during the show and is said to already be in discussions with distributors in Asia and Europe.

Another innovation at the show came about after a dad, reluctant to place a pacifier in his pocket, came up with a dishwasher safe, BPA-free storage bracelet. Speaking at the event, the dad in question – Nevin Diamond, Founder of New York-based Papa Boy, said: "When I had my first child, I was at a loss as to where to put the pacifier. I solved this by coming up with a bracelet that can move with me and now I don't have to worry about it."

He subsequently developed a larger bracelet, suitable for strapping onto a stroller or a car seat. He is now considering a licensing deal and the launch of a stuffed animal that will double as a storage container for pacifiers in a nursery, possibly with a built-in sterilising UV light.

One of the joys of the show is to see companies, which were once small start-up exhibitors, return as established and successful businesses. Back in 2012, Bobbie Rhoads launched her Funbites sandwich cutter range at the expo. Now her product has been ranked among the top 10 to have been presented on the Shark Tank reality show, while Rhoads has secured licensing deals for the Minions and Paw Patrol characters.

Looking back, she said: "It all started with a guy from Disney just walking by my stand here at the ABC Kids Expo…"

Photo: More than 12,000 attendees visited the increasingly international ABC Kids Expo.
More than 12,000 attendees visited the increasingly international ABC Kids Expo.
Photo: More than 12,000 attendees visited the increasingly international ABC Kids Expo.
More than 12,000 attendees visited the increasingly international ABC Kids Expo.

ABC Kids Expo 2016 was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center from 18-21 October. The event featured more than 900 exhibitors and attracted in excess of 12,000 attendees.

Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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